Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ducks are lucky…

Next to where I live, walking yesterday under zero and toward the NoWhere, lost in my thoughts, I met these unidentified ducks. To tell the truth, when I suddenly saw them in my way, my thoughts went to Alfred Hitchcock and his film "The Birds". Then, looking at how the ducks reacted to my presence completely duckly, that is peacefully and above all with absolute indifference, I started thinking that ducks are lucky; when they want to take a drink all they do is duck their bill. Doesn't matter if they spill. When they want to take a swim, all they do is dive right in; and they never seem to sink. Ducks are lucky, don't you think? After a bit, I realized that all I said about ducks is from a poem I had read some weeks ago (Mary Ann Hoberman, an American writer of children’s books, is the author). Realizing that I took other's verses for my own I felt a little bit like a foolish duck, with a bit of luck. 

Generally I like ducks. When I was a child my parents used ducks as a metaphor. "That's how good children should behave" they used to say " like little ducks do in the lake, always follow in blind obedience their parents". The presents I got from my parents as a child included all sorts of toy animals: bears, elephants, dogs, and even tigers imported from Maoist China. But ducks held a special place in my little menagerie of plastic animals, most of which were Made in Albania. (By the way, animal toys were the only thing that our socialist factories produced that looked anything like their counterparts in the capitalist West. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat promised us the New Man – totally different from the Old Man of the capitalist world - but animals would have remained unchanged and old as there were before). 

As a child I was also highly impressed by how big ducks’ eggs were (in comparison to chicken eggs they were XXL): in our house they were treated with reverence, like a very special thing, almost like a holy secret, almost like ostrich eggs. I never understood why.

I like the very word "duck" in English: it rhymes with words that sound something between jazz and rock: duck, buck, chuck, cluck, crick, guck, huck, luck, muck, pluck, puck, ruck, schmuck, shuck, struck, suck, truck, Truk, tuck, yech, yuck.
I don't like being a sitting duck, with no luck…

PS. I just received a message from an American friend who read my post, that reveals my huge ignorance about animals - at least animals in America. The nice creatures you see in the photo are not ducks but… Canada Geese. They are very unusual as a species because they are always in pairs and monogamous. This gives a totally new moral dimension to our meeting. But I will write about it another time. In any case, my thoughts on ducks, even if product of ignorance and illusion, remain unchanged. I now have to think about my relation to the Goose. It's an interesting word, by the way. Goose rhymes with some very special words to me: douce, juice, mousse, Seuss, truce, use and Zeus…

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Autumn Leaves…

The trees in front of my house lost their beautiful leaves overnight. The autumn leaves lie now on the sidewalk, like the lost hairs of a beautiful blond head. I didn't hear any complaints though: trees don't blame anyone, they don't play the victim. They surrender to their winter fate while and their naked branches tell me to stay warm, because winter came to town. My second Bostonian winter; the beautiful and wild winter of the North. It made me realize, once more, that I like people and personal freedom more than trees and roots; It made me discover, for the first time, that "I don't like climate, I like weather"…

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Immigration & Loneliness

“Do you feel alone here?” – this is a question I hear some times, from some Americans I meet by chance, once they learn I am a new immigrant in Boston (even though I belong to the "privileged immigrants" this time around). I instinctively sense the “nature” of the question. A new immigrant, usually, suffers loneliness.  
“Not really” - is my answer.
My interlocutors look puzzled and stare at me as though I were some bizarre species. “I guess I have made some wonderful new friends here” I add. Then, they nod: as a sign of encouragement or disbelief.
The truth is that “immigration” and “loneliness” are like communicated vessels. The “literature of immigration” is full of characters who crave to escape from the crushing burden of loneliness in the new and unknown land. The foreign language, the prejudices against the newcomer, the lack of time and lots of anxiety about the unknown don’t allow the immigrant to make new friends easily. Moreover, here in the new land, he has to make friends from scratch. The same way that he starts his life from scratch.
I have to confess that as an immigrant, I have never felt lonely. Even in Greece, where I immigrated without speaking a word of Greek, I made new friends in the very first  months. When I say “friends” I mean people who are still an important part of my life now. The same in Boston: I never felt alone. Maybe because I am in denial; it’s a sort of defense mechanism against it. Or, because as a writer, I can exorcise loneliness through reading and writing.  Maybe I will face loneliness later in my life.
To tell the truth, I have never had problems with people – wherever I lived. I feel lucky to have met wonderful people in my life, at the right time and in the right place. For me the problem was never people but States and rogue groups within the government. I have lived in two countries, Albania and Greece. In both, the State is a tragicomic imitation of the Ottoman bureaucracy and autocracy characterized by provincial megalomania, fear of the Other and corruption; in both countries, the Government coexist with rogue groups, working together against the rights of the individual; turning them usually into outcasts or “collaborators and clients” of a corrupt system. Most of my friends in Albania and Greece belong to "minorities" of some kind; at best they are "tolerated" by the System; usually they feel like outcasts and as the "Other".
In any case, the most precious “lessons” I learned from this “disharmony” between people and countries, is an ability to distinguish the individual from the nation, the person from the country he "belongs" to - against the prevailing narratives that want individuals and nations, persons and countries to be totally (and in the case of Greece racially and religiously) identical. This is how I became, with the passage of time, thoroughly inappropriate and useless for the so called “collective" (the way nationalists, xenophobes and bigots define it); no country can turn me into a nationalist, xenophobe or bigot. I don’t feel alone and scared, in a peaceful crowd; I feel crowded, though, if I am asked to give up my individuality for the crowd, even a peaceful one. I feel alien anywhere and everywhere at home. (That's why, I guess, I was considered as "very dangerous for the security of Greece" in 2003, arrested and threatened with deportation by rogue elements within the Greek police).
To return to “immigrants & loneliness”; I think friends and acquaintances are like luck. They come and knock at your door at any time of the day or night. You can open the door or be curious about who is   standing in the dark corridor. Or you can believe that whoever is out there wants to kidnap and kill you; so, instead of opening the door, you might choose to hide under your nice warm bed or call the police.
If you don’t want to risk opening the door, better not emigrate. Stay where you are and try to make the best for yourself and your country there. Try, though, to not hate those “bizarre” people who were forced or chose to leave their countries and share the same light and darkness as you. You can build a better future, if you see them not as kidnappers and killers but as creating opportunity for both of you…

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Two Yellow Finches

I saw them hanging there, yellow sneakers on black power lines, without the foot that used to wear them and with the half-blue-half-cloudy autumnal bostonian sky as background. I saw them in my neighborhood that is full of students and adolescents; actually, every now and then, while I'm walking on the streets of my neighborhood, my eyes fall upon sneakers hovering over my head, hanging on telephone wires, power lines and even trees; usually during the weekends, when students have a lot of alcohol, dancing and sex.
There is already a term in America for this phenomenon: “shoe tossing”; the guy who does the shoe tossing is called “shoe thrower”. There are a bunch of urban legends on why young Americans want to show their old sneakers to the entire new world. It is believed that this is a sort of rite of passage for adolescents; teenage boys who've just "scored" for the first time — i.e., lost their virginity — are wont to heave an old pair of sneakers over a power line to celebrate the moment and proclaim their conquest to the world. Some others say that the rite is linked to gang sign — sneakers hanging over telephone or electrical wires were to designate gang turf. Depending on what part of America you are from, one shoe from a light post or sign represents the death of a gang member. Judging by what I have experienced till now in my new neighborhood, I don’t feel like being encircled by gangs and pistoleros. There is also the drug theory: usually you see a pair of shoes hanging in the ghetto where everyone does drugs; it means "stop here". But then again the theory of the ghetto doesn’t apply here either, as this is one of the nicest and artistically thriving neighborhoods in Boston. Talking with “shoe throwers” among my students I got a simple explanation: after getting a new pair of sneakers, it is a common ritual to tie the shoelaces of your old pair together and throw them up on power lines and  telephone wires. What else are you going to do with your old pair of sneakers?

So, it is Sunday morning and I'm staring at this pair of shoes, hovering over my head, hanging on black power lines, like two yellow finches, surrendered to their winter-solitude. The comparison with the finches brought suddenly some favorite verses by J. Prevert, from my adolescence, back to my "mature" brain: “Feet are very smart/ 
They take you very far/ When you want to go very far/
And then when you don’t want to leave/
They stay there with you, they keep you company/
And when there is music they dance/
You can’t dance without them/Just be stupid like man is so often/
As stupid as his feet/ and happy as a finch”.